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How to Unclog a Drain Yourself Without Caustic Chemicals

A plugged up sink, shower, or tub drain sends most people running for either a bottle of caustic drain cleaner or a plumber’s phone number. But wait.

This could well be a job you can do yourself successfully without chemicals or a big bill.

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Assess the situation

Turn on taps to allow water down other drains in the house. If everything else is flowing freely, you can be fairly certain you have a localized clog—and probably near that clogged drain’s opening. If this is involving other drains, you could have a bigger problem that may well require a professional. Assuming it’s only the one drain, let’s move on.

A woman preparing food in a kitchen, with Plunger and Sink

Boiling water

Get a large pot and boil up as much water as it will hold*. Now carefully pour boiling water down the drain slowly, in two to three stages so that the hot water can work for a few minutes in between each pour. This is the easiest and quickest way to unclog a drain if it works, which usually it does with a satisfying swoosh.

*Or your hottest tap water if you are dealing with a porcelain sink and/or PVC pipes, in which case boiling water could cause damage.

Blue Dawn

Pour 1/2 cup of Dawn detergent into the drain. For tough clogs, use a full cup of detergent.

While that sits, bring a half pot of water (about 4 cups) to boil. Pour this into the drain slowly but steadily to avoid getting burned by splashing water. Run water down the drain to check how freely water flows through.

If the clog remains or seems to be clearing, but the drain is still slow-running, repeat until the drain runs free.

Baking soda and vinegar

Measure out 1/3 cup baking soda and get as much of it down the drain as you can. Follow with 1/3 cup white vinegar. It will fizz up and make quite a show. Allow it to sit for at least an hour, or overnight if at all possible. In the morning, follow with a quart or two of boiling water. You will be tempted to overdo it with the baking soda and vinegar. Don’t.

Reach in

Remove the strainer that is part of the drain plug, then reach into the drain with your fingers (latex gloves would be a good idea here) and pull out any solids. As gross as this might be, it is often all that’s needed to clear a slow-moving or clogged drain.

Zip it

If you cannot reach the clog with your fingers, your next best friend is this cheap plastic tool, Zip It, available at home improvement centers or online.

This simple tool is flexible enough to allow you to push it down into the turns of the drain. It has teeth along each side that once you’re in and you twist it, you’ll be able to pull out all manner of drain offenders. Keep working at it, until you pull out as much as you can. Now run the hot water and that should clear things up nicely.

A reader introduced me to Zip It years ago. At about five bucks, this handy dandy tool is worth its weight in gold. It’s great to clear drains, but also works well to maintain drains before they get clogged.

Wet-dry vacuum

If you have one of these, it just might help you to clear the drain without having to get your hands dirty. First, set it to “wet” so it vacuums liquids. Cover or close the drain’s vent. Make the tightest seal you can with the hose end of the vacuum over the drain. Get creative with duct tape or the like. With the vacuum set to its most powerful setting, it can be powerful enough to pull that clog right out of the drain.

No guarantees here, but attempting to clear a clogged drain yourself first is certainly worth a shot!

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5 replies
  1. Mollie Salter says:

    Thank you for breaking this down so well. These tips will really help to clear out the clogged kitchen or shower drain with ease. However, there are also some preventive measures that one should take in order to prevent the drains from getting clogged.
    I recently found a post covering some tips on how to prevent such clogs.
    (Here is the link: https://alkemergencyplumbers.co.uk/blog/how-to-unblock-shower-drain/)
    Sorry for the link but I thought it might be helpful.

  2. glani kalikutty says:

    Hey guys I have been having this problem with my sink in the basement. It gets clogged almost on a weekly basis. The p-trap doesn’t look like anything i have seen before.

    A friend of mine recommended this: https://buyhomespirit.com/sani-sticks/ … What are your opinion on this? Has anyone used it? Still wondering if I should purchase this.

  3. Betty Thomas says:

    Good tips Mary and I might add one cautionary tip. If you already have a clog the worst thing you can do is use Drano or any other supposed drain cleaners. Once you have a clog putting Drano in the drain just makes it worse. It surrounds the clog and hardens making removal by you or a professional much more difficult. Take it from me, my husband and I have been in the plumbing and excavation business for over 30 years.

  4. Amanda says:

    My 3 daughters and I all have long hair. We are constantly clogging up the shower and bath tub. I bought a filter screen that replaces the tub stopper (it’s easy to replace if one of us wants to take a bath) and in the shower stall, I keep a long piece of sturdy wire that has a hook bent in one end. Rather than use chemicals, I periodically take off the shower stall drain cover and stick the wire down and fish out the big glob of hair (eeew!!)

  5. Pamela Guthrie says:

    A plumber at work told me about the Dawn trick. I use it every 4-6 weeks now as a preventative in the sinks at work, letting the Dawn sit for a while, then pouring hot water in. The Zip It is a wonderful tool at my house with my long hair and three cats who like to take turns sitting in the bathroom sink. Do you know if the Zip It comes in a smaller size? There is one sink in my life that I think could use it, but it’s too big.


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